Peel providing millions of dollars to struggling community groups but some might not survive
For nonprofit organizations in Canada, COVID-19 has created a long list of hardships.
According to the Ontario Nonprofit Network, one in five organizations in the province have closed their doors to the community because of COVID-19. The report found such organizations are facing a “triple threat” of dilemmas, not all of them financial: COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of fundraising events (resulting in lost revenue), programs have been suspended (seriously impacting vulnerable clientele), and a large absence in available staff and volunteers has been recorded (raising questions about the availability of future services).
This “triple threat” has also hit the Region of Peel. A survey of 200 community organizations found 83 percent of them cut services and reduced the number of staff members, according to a recent staff report analyzing funding for community groups.
Many organizations providing critical services, such as providing food and shelter for vulnerable populations in Peel, have struggled in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to continue providing critical support to vulnerable members of the community, many of these groups have been forced to seek financial assistance. In response, the Region of Peel established the COVID-19 Emergency Fund.
The Region had previously received almost $12 million in social services funding commitments from the two higher levels of government, which can now be used for struggling community groups trying to cope with the impact of COVID-19.
On March 26, regional council approved the $1 million emergency fund, which was taken from a tax rate-stabilization reserve fund run by the Region, with eligibility aimed at organizations who either needed money to address people’s basic needs (food, social supports, temporary housing) or required assistance caring for vulnerable individuals who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The almost $12 million from Ottawa and Queen’s Park has been added to this purpose.
This includes funding for isolation programs for those who don't have the space to quarantine on their own as well as medical care for homeless residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. The emergency fund came a few days after the United Way of Greater Toronto informed their partner organizations that they could use their funding allocations in any way they chose to best serve their clients, regardless of whether the grant funding was already attached to a specific purpose.
Money given to organizations from Peel’s emergency fund was originally meant to be on a one-time basis. However, as long as physical distancing measures remain in place, needs will continue to increase, raising the possibility of organizations needing more money. In a move to ensure support continued to flow to the organizations in need, regional council, on April 9, approved a motion allowing staff to continue processing applications even after the $1 million threshold for the fund was reached.
“Staff wanted to ensure they had the latitude to grant funding to applications from community agencies beyond one time only – should an urgent need arise,” Ann-Marie Koumettou, a spokesperson for the Region, told The Pointer.
Funding from Peel's emergency fund can be used to support organizations providing shelter and isolation services to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have nowhere else to go.
As of April 23, 58 applications had received funding grants totaling $1,097,567, Koumettou said, but that was a fraction of what was requested. In total, the program received 62 applications, resulting in $3,511,769 of requests, Janice Sheehy, the Commissioner of Human Services reported to Regional Council on April 23. Requests were dwindled down after staff went through them with the community agencies to make sure only eligible items were approved.
The extension in applications is made possible by the money coming from higher levels of government. The federal government’s Reaching Home program allocated $5.8 million to the region and the provincial government’s Social Services Relief Fund brought in $5.9 million. The approval of the April 9 motion allowed these funds to be used as part of the emergency program. The motion prevented a funding gap that could have come about when the emergency fund ran out of its original $1 million.
Regeneration Outreach Community, a Brampton-based organization serving vulnerable individuals, mostly those who are homeless, is one of the organizations which received money from the region’s emergency fund. It went toward the creation of a drop-in center equipped with cots, tables, and internet connection that can serve 15 people at a time.
Ted Brown, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, told The Pointer it was done to help the most vulnerable people in the community. “Many of those who are homeless have depended on the community aspect of what Regeneration does. They also depend on libraries and coffee shops for a place to spend a little bit of time. Each of those came to a screeching halt when the State of Emergency was announced,” Brown said.
Applications are coming from a number of groups that cover a wide variety of needs, including food security, support for women and domestic violence victims, and newcomer programs. Information on what the 58 approved applications asked for and the specific organizations they came from is not known. The Pointer was told more information on these details will be provided at the May 14 Regional Council meeting.
Organizations helping Peel residents keep food on the table are turning to the region for assistance to ensure these valuable programs continue to run.
But more money for community resources will be needed as these funds are only addressing the immediate needs of community groups. They don’t take medium and long-term financial impacts that will inevitably challenge these organizations into account.
“In order to mitigate medium to longer-term impacts, funding is required to assist in investments in technology and other equipment to enable community agencies to continue to adapt their business models to remain open during the pandemic, and to offset revenue losses,” the report from the Region states.
Estimates on the long term impacts are unknown at this time as no one knows how long physical distancing measures will last. What is known is more funding will be needed for things such as food banks and mental health services, housing supports, help for victims of violence and programs that assist those struggling with drug and alcohol dependency, as the pandemic continues to impact the economic status of numerous people across the province.
The list of organizations applying for funds could also see a jump. The report from the Region says Peel Housing Corporation is facing a loss in revenue due to some residents not being able to pay rent. Up to $10 million could be needed to help with the shortfall of the organization.
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